by Martha Ellen
There are cracks in an ordinary day that seem a gateway to safety, but they are not always what they seem when passing through. I saw one open and quickly took the children upstairs to the top floor attic of the apartment building 4643 N. Maplewood.
We lived in the first-floor apartment where were our beds, our kitchen, our everyday belongings used to keep us going from day to day.
In the attic, we walked along the beams being careful not to step in-between for fear of breaking through the ceiling below and falling - falling like in dreams, falling like Alice in Wonderland with no safe landing assured. We passed the brick chimney. We examined the rubble scattered on the floor, left behind by ..... Something. We were searching.
Near us loomed a large darkness. Behind it was kept all secrets, all things I could not face nor accept. Then, in the dark, the rustling sound like that of a nylon jacket disturbed by the shallow breathing of a wearer desperately trying to stay motionless.
And a nearly inaudible snicker. Terror. A gasp. Grab the children and run.
The non-human entity had escaped again, leaving below, on the first floor, its husk with the small, odd smile and empty crystal blue eyes. I saw it before, briefly, when the facade slipped, like a spy cam I saw for an instant behind the intended post featuring the doll I had been seeking, the only doll, the perfect doll, the doll that would fix everything if only I could find her and I look for her often, ever since I can remember, even now.
Those briefly unveiled blue eyes told me what I did not want to know, caused me to flee with the kids through an amorphous passage to the strange, broken, inadequate hiding place upstairs. Away. Like a mother cat in error believing she was moving her kittens to the safer place, a place where unbeknownst to her, dwelt the greatest danger. Her distraction allowed the entity free rein to detach and roam. It was hungry, as always, and reminded me there was no escape. My presence was required to maintain its integrated self. It needed me.
Ever since the time on the trail, when it got loose, and its slack-face left no doubt in my mind, our deaths were the preferred outcome. I learned a unified persona was better; the beast alone, unhusked, was capable of anything, anything at all, even grinning while gnawing bloody bones.
Retreat seemed the only option. If we returned to the apartment, perhaps the separated entity would have silently slipped past us in a clandestine move, perfected since infancy, and returned to its place within the husk, where it pulled the thin, flexible membrane carefully around it, stitching it together with near-flawless seams. The eyes would seem less vacant, again; the thin smile more convincing, less terrifying. And I could pretend again; pretending was less frightening. Singing in the dark, one's own voice quells a rising terror.
But, in fact, there was no attic on Maplewood, no hiding place, no matter how imperfect. There was no safe harbor; there was no one to save us, except me, always present with an unwavering, unblinking gaze lest it split apart, and its dark violence overwhelm us all. An illusion, a dream maybe. Yet even today, I'm uncertain, and at times I still believe I hid there with the children until I could accept defeat again.